The royal family of Qatar plunked down the record purchase price for one of only five copies of the 19th-century work, roughly twice the previous record, which was paid in 2006 for Jackson Pollack's "No. 5, 1948."
"Now everyone will use this price as a point of departure," appraiser Victor Wiener told Britain's The Daily Telegraph. "It changes the whole art-market structure."
"The Card Players" was quietly sold last year by the estate of Greek shipping tycoon George Embiricos. The purchase price was recently revealed in Vanity Fair magazine.
Embiricos rarely loaned out the work. The other versions of the scene belong to New York's Museum of Modern Art and other prominent art museums.
"There is not much great art left on the market and there is a lot of competition to get it," observed Nicolai Iljine, a consultant for the Guggenheim.
The purchase can be taken as a sign that oil-rich Qatar is being aggressive in its campaign to become a world arts center, Vanity Fair said. The Persian Gulf nation has opened three museums in the past three years and recently hired art insider Ed Dolman, chairman of the upscale auction house Christie's, to be executive director of the Museum Authority.